MONTPELIER – On Thursday, Vermont lawmakers brainstormed strategies to address a declining amount of healthcare workers in the state.

The House Committee on Health Care and the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development held a joint meeting to go over a long list of recommendations made by a legislative advisory panel.

The Healthcare Workforce Development Strategic Plan gathered input from a panel of doctors, nurses, mental health professionals and representatives from hospitals and long-term care facilities. It includes strategies like investing more money in scholarships, doing more to promote careers in healthcare, and offering more opportunities for financial assistance.

This particular endeavor to boost Vermont’s healthcare work force dates back to January 2020, two months before the pandemic arrived.

The impact of COVID has only made the shortage accelerate, and lawmakers with a strong grasp of the situation inside hospitals say they know exactly why.

“It’s happening because healthcare providers, healthcare workers, people in the system are burnt out,” said Rep. Mari Cordes (D-Addison).

Rep. Cordes, who sits on the House Healthcare Committee, was a founding organizer and former president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. She said it’s going to be an uphill battle to build staffing levels.

“The kind of work that we’re doing and the intensity of the work that we’re doing – we’re not going to be able to recruit more people and retain people by offering tax incentives,” Rep. Cordes said.

Across the country, the healthcare workforce is one of many industries facing what’s been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’.

Prompted by the pandemic, people are quitting their jobs in record numbers. In past recessions, the health sector was able to weather through, even seeing job growth.

Now, that’s not the case.

In order to maintain Vermonters’ access to health services, providers have also relied increasingly on traveling nurses. From FY 2020 to FY 2021, hires increased 26 percent. The cost for hospitals also rose by 50 percent, from $50 million to $75 million.

The panel’s recommendations fall into six broad categories: financial incentives, education and training, recruitment and retention, regulation, practice, and federal policy.

Ena Backus, Director of Healthcare Reform at the Vermont Agency of Human Services, chaired the advisory panel.

“As we think about strategies and how Vermont can be competitive in a fiercely competitive environment, one of the things that stands out is Vermont’s vaccination rate,” Backus said.

Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak noted there is a lot of focus on recruiting, but retaining current healthcare workers is just as vital.

“A lot of what we heard both in the State of the State yesterday and even in this plan, the focus is a lot about bringing new people in,” Rep. Mulvaney-Stanak said. “We have a lot of Vermonters here, and I’m curious if we can learn more about how to retain people in these fields…. When I see people working in the healthcare world here in the state, I’m wondering about the livability of these jobs.”